LGB and gender diverse kids

Over the years, my practice has had an increasing number of parents calling with concerns about their child refusing to where the clothes traditionally associated with a certain gender – little boys demanding pretty skirts, little girls refusing to wear dresses. Notably, most of these parents are not concerned about the sexual or gender diversity choices of their child. More, they are concerned about trying to bully proof them for fear that they may be harassed or maltreated by others because others cannot accept their preferences.

Identity formation is an important milestone in adolescence and sexual orientation is just one part of many things that an adolescent sort out about themselves in the lead up to the adult years…and sometimes even beyond that.  An adolescent may take some time before they decide their sexual orientation. The average age of coming out is about 16, but that does not mean that young people have all of their gender identity issues sorted out by 16.

A study of over 7000 year 7 and 8 students found that 15.1{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} of the group identified as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB) or questioning their sexuality. Sadly this 15.1{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} were more likely to report bullying, homophobic victimisation, truancy, depression, alcohol and substance use and thoughts of suicide. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual (LGB) and Gender Diverse young people are over represented in teen suicide numbers.

Those young people in the study who were questioning their sexuality and still hadn’t come to a clear resolve about their sexuality were worse off than those who clearly identified as LGB. We have known for some time now that kids who are coming out as LGB are in need of support, but this study also showed that teens who are questioning their sexuality and have not yet decided or worked it out, are even more at risk of concerning outcomes.

It seems that the early teen years are a time when young people may need particular support around the sexual aspects of their identity.

School can play a big role in reducing negative outcomes for LGB teens and those questioning their sexuality. Schools that promote a positive climate and a lack of homophobic victimisation actually work to protect all children (not just the LGB or questioning kids) from negative outcomes on their mental health. However, it’s not just the prevention of bullying that needs to be targeted. Homophobic teasing also needs to be dealt with through procedural and policies of school and right down to the teacher student and student-student interactions.

Like for many things that can be hard work, good support can moderate the impact of stress associated with identifying as LGB or gender diverse as a teen.

Young people with support have much better mental health outcomes. Support can come from a number of sources and it seems that different support is associated with certain outcomes in the process of a teen coming to terms with their sexual orientation.

Support from friends tends to have more of an impact on disclosure or coming out. However, family support was better than friend support for promoting self acceptance.

It also seems that those who identify as bi-sexual have the lowest levels of support and are therefore at the highest risk for troubling outcomes.

Family support is a crucial part of the picture when it comes to LGB teens or those still questioning their orientation. There are some very helpful resources around to help parents support their children around LGB and transgender issues. Beyond Blue has an excellent resource for families called “Families Like Mine” that provides some evidence-based information and ideas for best support.

Generally speaking, here are some quick tips for supporting a LGB and gender diverse or questioning child. Of course, all of these tips are easier to implement when you have already worked to establish open communication and are available for your child.

  • get your head around the language – your child or children may be able to assist you so don’t be afraid to ask
  • remember that an LGB or transgender relationship is not a terrible thing, but also, like any other relationships, they are not always easy. They all take dual effort and should never be violent or abusive.
  • being LGB is not, in itself , a barrier to a happy life
  • some parents worry about whether they can still be a grandparent – like all young people, LGBT couples can chose to have a family or not
  • it’s not your child’s role to look after you. Young people who feel that they have to protect or act as parent to their parents offer struggle with a range of mental health concerns. Be sure that if you need support that you get it from other sources.
  • if you suspect that your child may have a certain sexual preference or gender identity, but they have not disclosed it, don’t ask. Let them lead.
  • If your child discloses that they are confused or identify as LCB or transgender:
    • have your child guide you about what they need
    • there is plenty of information out there and plenty of support groups – virtual and face to face. Perhaps you could explore these together if that’s what your child wants to do.
    • be honest about how you feel –if you are confused, say so, but if your child looks happy, it’s always great to acknowledge that you are glad they are happy and that they are loved, too. You can be confused and happy at the same time!
    • sometimes a young person might tell one parent but not the other. Do what you can to ensure that you and your partner both support your child.

Your concerns or worries about your child/student/client being discriminated should not hold you back from being supportive. if you do feel your child is being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, act as you would for any other time you might think a child is being treated unfairly over any other issue like race, disability or religion.

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